Quick thoughts, takeaways from the new federal government analytics dashboard

Source: analytics.usa.gov

Source: analytics.usa.gov

After reviewing the first iteration of the newly-launched analytics.usa.gov, here are some quick thoughts and takeaways:

  • The federal government fails the mobile-friendly test it created two years ago in the White House digital strategy. In fact, most of the top 20 most-visited federal .gov websites do not employ responsive web practices. Especially surprising is that nasa.gov isn’t mobile-friendly.
  • A number of these sites have complementary mobile apps, but given the traffic numbers and the fact that a third of web users are coming from mobile devices, resources allocated to app development is a seemingly wasted investment, especially since responsive web design is a “two birds one stone” approach to digital services. Once the General Services Administration’s Digital Analytics Program exposes that data, we’ll know more.
  • irs.gov is in need of a major overhaul, especially given the number of users who visit the site. This should be the top priority of the White House digital and technology leadership teams.
  • Users are visiting .gov websites for services, not to learn about government. Developers of .gov websites should be asking themselves what the service is citizens need from a particular agency rather than creating a brochure website about the agency or its secretary. Many of these still fall into the latter category.
  • uscis.gov is leading on these fronts.
  • Every .gov domain should have a /analytics pages that redirects to their respective analytics.usa.gov pages.
  • Given its momentum around adopting open source technologies, would be interesting to see government explore the use of Piwik for web analytics.
  • I’d love to see an integration with the analytics numbers to the respective budgets of each site’s development costs. Example: When searching irs.gov on usaspending.gov, you find that from (what appears to be) 2008-2011, more than $62 million was allocated to site development. Given that usaspending.gov is fairly confusing, this type of information would be great to see linked in connection to analytics. We could then see how development costs stack up to actual usage and make a real return on investment analysis on these projects. This would start to get us closer to what a real IT dashboard should look like.
  • There’s been a lot of attention on the big number showing how many users are currently on a .gov website. It’s an interesting visual, but mostly emphasizes how many users are underserved by the federal government’s approach to web design and development.
  • Will be great to see a drill-down of the analytics for all domains.
  • This is incredible work and kudos to everyone involved. The White House should host a cook-out celebration for everyone who helped build analytics.usa.gov. I don’t think most people realize the opportunities into government efficiency, transparency and better serving citizens that will be realized as this dashboard is enhanced.

Is Piwik government’s ‘open’ alternative to Google Analytics?


I was recently tipped off to the open source web analytics software Piwik and wondered how viable an option it is for government as an alternative to Google Analytics.

Piwik has an impressive list of features and has been downloaded more than one million times. While it doesn’t appear to be heavily-adopted by the public sector within the United States, there are a number of international governments using the software.

Curious to learn more, I asked one of its creators, Matthieu Aubry, to address some of the security, privacy and scalability issues that might be of concern to those in the public sector interested in using it.

Why would government consider an open source analytics software like Piwik when Google Analytics (and others like it) are already free?

One of the principle advantages of Piwik is that you are in control. Unlike remote-hosted services (such as Google Analytics), you host Piwik on your own server and the data is tracked inside your MySQL database. Because Piwik is installed on your server, you enjoy full control over your data.

For many governement agencies (outside the United States), respecting the privacy of their citizens is a critical aspect, and it would be complicated to send their visitors data to Google for various reasons. When using Google Analytics, all traffic patterns are sent to Google, which can figure out a lot about these individuals from data mining across all websites in the world using Google Analytics (more than 60% of all websites). Laws like the Patriot Act in the United States makes it theoretically possible for the U.S. governement to get access to this valuable data without due process.

Piwik is a great alternative for governement to take back control of their data, respect their visitors’ privacy and keep costs manageable. If you are using Google Analytics and starting to use Piwik, you can import your Google Analytics data history into Piwik.

Is there commercial support available?

We provide Piwik premium support as well as consultancy services for Piwik setup, special configuration, management of your Piwik and implementation of custom features (part of our roadmap or not, included in core or custom plugins).

In 2012 we have seen an impressive increase in popularity about Piwik, and we have been lucky to work with many customers (startups, big enterprise, web agencies, advertising networks) to implement and tune Piwik for their needs.

Also, the community offers free support in our active Forums.

The product tracks visits, so can I set it up to comply with the government privacy rules?

Piwik is the leading web analytics software when it comes to respecting user privacy.

Privacy is “built-in” Piwik, with four main features that enable advanced privacy policies:

Step 1) Automatically Anonymize Visitor IPs
Step 2) Delete Old Visitors Logs
Step 3) Include a Web Analytics Opt-Out Feature on Your Site (Using an iFrame)
Step 4) Respect DoNotTrack preference

Can it scale to handle the kind of traffic a government agency would get?

If you have a few hundreds visits/page views per day, Piwik should work fine “out of the box.”

In the last year we have made major performance improvements. Piwik can now scale to millions of page views per month and/or to thousands of registered websites. At least two users even broke the one billion page view counter in Piwik.

Contact us for professional support and guidance about managing a high-traffic Piwik server.

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